No matter where you wander through Ann Arbor, whether with a group of friends or alone, you’ll find funky art around every corner. In fact, ON every corner if you’re downtown!
1. Painted Utility Boxes
Unlike some community art projects like the painted buffalo in Custer, South Dakota or the flying pigs of Cincinnati, Ann Arbor chose to use existing structures downtown to display community art.
They came up with PowerArt! — a collaborative effort between the city and art commission to beautify downtown. The project began with a juried selection of eight designs submitted by local artists. The collection grew to an astounding 42 traffic signal boxes colorfully dotting corners all around town.
The designs were actually created on vinyl that was wrapped around these boxes.
What appealed to me about these simple bursts of artistry was the fact that you really didn’t have to hunt to find them. I snapped all of these pictures from the warm comfort of my car as I practiced social distancing.
2. Graffiti Alley and the Gum Wall
More and more often, I find myself seeking out street art. People who can envision and create murals on the sides of buildings amaze me. But I am just as envious of smaller bits of artistic display, especially when it all comes together in one spot like the HOPE Outdoor Gallery in Austin, Texas or in the form of an alley filled with colorful graffiti like I saw off East Liberty Street in Ann Arbor.
Begun with a single piece of art commissioned in 1999, the alley has evolved into a winding collection of ever-changing art. You may see people posing for pictures there, or expressing a bit of their own creativity in this legally-sanctioned graffiti hotspot.
What makes Graffiti Alley in Ann Arbor a little different is that one wall has become a canvas of gum wads. These globs of gum are painted now into another curious bit of art, but this wasn’t always so. For a time, it was a more pinkish-grayish mosaic of grotesque art. I guess this is better??
3. Wave Field
Not all art involves paint. You’ll find an example of landscape art behind the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Building on University of Michigan’s engineering campus. This horticultural art exhibit was created by Maya Lin who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Wave Field replicates the patterns of mathematical sine waves — which explains why it was sculpted outside an engineering building. If you need an explanation of sine waves, maybe you can ask one of the students inside. 😉
While it did not move me in quite the way the Vietnam Memorial did, I did enjoy walking around this small plot of grass to see the waves from various angles. I’m sure the field can look quite different during different times of the day as shadows stretch across, and shade the mounded waves.
4. Fairy Doors
I had no idea that Ann Arbor, Michigan had its own folk legends. But here, as on the Emerald Isle of Ireland, fairies are not only welcomed and protected; they even have their own doors.
There are at least a dozen fairy doors hidden inside and outside of businesses around Ann Arbor. The first can be traced to the century-old home of Jonathan B. Wright, a self-proclaimed “fairyologist.” His fairy door was the first to appear in the 1990s. Later, a fairy door appeared near the doorway of Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea. Not knowing what it was, the owners removed it. They later learned it had been put there by their local fairyologist, so when it appeared again, they left it alone.
This fairy door outside The Ark was the easiest for me to spot.
I’ve never had a good eye for fairies. Apparently, I’m not skilled at spotting fairy doors, either. Not all of the doors are immediately evident, but then they’re not for me; they’re for the fairies. I’m sure that like young children, they have no trouble finding them at all.
But for those of you who need a little help, here’s an unofficial fairy door map to get you started.
Ann Arbor Art
I loved the variety of art on display throughout Ann Arbor, Michigan. All of it was funky and fun and warrants another trip there in the future so that I can see even more. Way to go, Michigan!
What type of street art do you seek out?
A fairy door map! What everyone needs. Including the cat. 🙂 Chewing gum art. Hmmm… Always appreciate communities that embrace art. It seems so much more common now. Hooray! Thanks for sharing Juliann. Stay safe. –Curt
Alright, fairy door map is a thing. I’ll have to check that out next time I am at tsun. I’ve always equated that town to a woman in an ancient occupation, but it really is a neat place.
I didn’t realize they have a gum wall like Seattle does! The wave park would definitely be something we want to visit. And the utility boxes that are decorated with art are always a favorite in any city. We see this often now and it’s SO nice to see art on a metal box! Really jazzes it up!
Hmm… I wonder how many other places in the world have a gum wall? LOL
Ann Arbor is super fun,isn’t it? I actually haven’t been to the wave field yet which I def need to!! The gum wall has always grossed me out a bit lol. And I loooove the fairy doors, I remember my first year of college I visited my friend who was at UM and we spent like a whole weekend trying to find as many as we could.
Ann Arbor is definitely a town I’d like to return to. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do there.
Ann Arbor is such a lovely town, and yes, I enjoy the fairy doors.
I think Cincinnati has a great tradition of public/street art too! Including painted utility boxes, at least in the Clifton neighborhood. The large-scale murals all over town are my favorite though.
Love the fairy doors! That is such a charming idea. I’m glad they painted the gum, but ewww gum. I’m not a fan of the stuff as I seem to have very bad luck with stepping in or sitting at tables with it stuck underneath, so I’d actually be ok if the stuff disappeared!
Gum walls are definitely an odd idea. I’m glad I knew what it was so I didn’t touch it.
The fairy doors were charming! I want to go back and look for more with my daughter sometime.
I love the fairy doors!! I need a whole post on fairy doors. This reminds me a bit of Grand Rapids – lots of color and art in the entire city!
I’d like to write a whole post on the fairy doors. Maybe after my next trip.